November 02, 2023, Kitchener, Ontario
Posted by: Robert Deutschmann, Personal Injury Lawyer
CBC News recently reported on new research that is being done into Long Covid. I've made a summary below but you can read the full article here.
Scientists have been grappling with the perplexing puzzle of long COVID for years. Why do some individuals, even after experiencing mild COVID-19 infections, continue to suffer from persistent and often debilitating symptoms? Recent research offers new insights, shedding light on potential hallmarks of long COVID and providing hope for future treatments.
Several research teams have been diligently working to uncover the mysteries of long COVID, officially known as post-COVID-19 condition. Their collective efforts have unearthed a range of clues that might explain the underlying mechanisms of this condition. Concurrently, other researchers have identified intriguing overlaps between long COVID and the persistent symptoms that some individuals experience after various infections, including the flu and the common cold. These findings hint at the possibility of common triggers for a wide array of poorly understood health conditions.
No Smoking Guns, but Progress
While definitive answers are still elusive, the emerging research is bringing scientists one step closer to understanding and potentially treating the diverse symptoms associated with long COVID. Christoph Thaiss, an assistant professor of microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine, notes that researchers are starting to discern tangible mechanisms that could give rise to these symptoms. Surprisingly, some of these mechanisms might be shared among multiple conditions, offering a glimmer of hope for a unified approach to treatment.
Biomarkers: Clues in the Blood
Two recent studies have focused on identifying biomarkers for long COVID—observable traits in an individual's blood, tissues, or bodily fluids that can be measured and tracked. These biomarkers may provide insights into the presence of an infection or disease, similar to how blood pressure and cholesterol levels inform medical diagnoses. One groundbreaking study, led by Thaiss and his team at the University of Pennsylvania, examined both real-world patients with long COVID and animal models.
Their research suggests that the release of interferons—signaling proteins produced by cells in response to viral threats—could contribute to the depletion of serotonin, a crucial chemical messenger in the brain. This depletion, in turn, may lead to cognitive impacts, including memory issues and a sensation known as "brain fog." Intriguingly, the study found that some individuals with long COVID harbored virus fragments in their guts long after they tested negative for the virus. These remnants could be enough to trigger the release of interferons, perpetuating the condition.
The EBV Connection
Another intriguing discovery comes from the reactivation of dormant Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) in long COVID patients. EBV is a common pathogen that can cause mononucleosis, but it often infects people without causing symptoms. The reactivation of EBV in long COVID patients could suggest a dampened immune response triggered by the initial COVID-19 infection. This reactivated EBV might be responsible for some of the persistent symptoms observed in long COVID patients.
More Questions Than Answers
While the search for biomarkers is illuminating possible mechanisms of long COVID, it has raised more questions than answers. Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, acknowledges that these studies spotlight potential mechanisms at play. The challenge now is to comprehend why some individuals cannot dampen the inflammatory response, leading to prolonged suffering. Despite the relatively small scale and focused nature of these studies, Schaffner remains optimistic that they could pave the way for diagnostic tests and treatments for long COVID in the future.
Potential Treatments on the Horizon
One potential avenue for treatment involves the study focusing on serotonin. This research hints at the potential for existing medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are commonly prescribed for depression. Restoring serotonin levels through tryptophan supplementation or the use of SSRIs may hold the key to ameliorating long COVID symptoms.
Long COVID's Broader Implications
While long COVID rates appear to be decreasing due to widespread vaccination efforts, this condition still affects millions worldwide, with a wide spectrum of symptoms and severity. Researchers believe that many individuals may have suffered similar ailments after other viral or bacterial infections long before the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent research from the U.K. suggests that SARS-CoV-2 is not the only respiratory virus capable of causing lasting symptoms. Influenza and the common cold have also been associated with lingering health issues, some of which overlap with long COVID.
Diverse Symptoms, Shared Mechanisms
The U.K. study revealed both similarities and differences between long COVID and lingering symptoms from other infections. While long COVID was more commonly linked to dizziness and issues with taste or smell, lingering symptoms after a cold often included gastrointestinal problems. These findings suggest that different infections may lead to distinct symptoms, with common mechanisms where they overlap.
A Glimmer of Hope
Despite the challenges and uncertainty surrounding long COVID, ongoing research is offering hope for patients like Dr. Anne Bhéreur. She has experienced a myriad of symptoms since contracting COVID-19 in late 2020, and despite various interventions and medications, a complete cure remains elusive. However, Bhéreur remains hopeful that continued research may lead to effective treatments for the root causes of conditions like long COVID and other post-infectious illnesses. While it may take time to see results, the prospect of finding a treatment game-changer is a ray of hope for those grappling with long-lasting health issues.
The quest to unravel the mystery of long COVID is a work in progress, but recent research is shedding light on potential mechanisms and offering hope for future treatments. As scientists continue to uncover the enigma's secrets, there's optimism that we may one day find a way to alleviate the suffering of those affected by this condition and related post-infectious illnesses.